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Plaintiffs in Baltimore sex-for-repairs lawsuit seek class status

A federal lawsuit alleging repairmen for Baltimore public housing complexes withheld necessary repairs from women who refused to have sex with them has been amended to seek class certification.

Baltimore City Housing commissioner Paul Graziano

Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano

The class could be as many as 750 women across Baltimore, according to the amended complaint, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The updated lawsuit has 19 named plaintiffs, up from seven in the initial complaint, but the women’s lawyers say they have heard from many more.

“Additional women have contacted the office of the undersigned without leaving their contact information to say that the same thing happened to them, but that they will not come forward as part of a public lawsuit because the victims cannot bear to have family members, including significant others, parents and young children learn what the victims suffered,” the complaint states.

The amended lawsuit reiterates many of the allegations from earlier complaints, including from one victim who claims she forced to sleep next to the oven because the handyman wouldn’t fix her heat without sexual favors in return. The victim, an administrative assistant to HABC’s deputy executive director, claims she told her boss; an auditor sent to investigate her complaint then told her he could “not guarantee her safety” if she moved forward with it.

Another woman alleges a repairman said he would “do a Bill Cosby on her,” which the plaintiff “came to understand meant he was threatening to drug and rape her,” according to the complaint. After rejecting his advances, the woman claims the repairman fixed apartments affected by a water leak above and below her but not her home.

A third woman alleges repairs were made to her apartment only after details in the original lawsuit were widely publicized earlier this year.

The lawsuit claims HABC ignored numerous complaints and allowed the repairmen to “maintain their positions of power.”

“These victims are too poor to move out and relocate their families,” the complaint states. “Consequently, they are left with the impossible choice of either succumbing to unwanted sexual demands in order to save themselves and their children from life-threatening conditions in their homes, or, living in squalor.”

The lawsuit seeks at least $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages, among other remedies.

The plaintiffs are represented by Cary J. Hansel, a Baltimore solo practitioner, and Annie B. Hirsch of Hirsch & Cosca PC in Baltimore.

The case is Smith, et al. v. The City of Baltimore, et al., 1:15-cv-02921-GLR.

Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano said last month federal housing officials also are looking into the allegations and that HABC is cooperating with the probe.